He was born 2 years and 6 days after my own father, in 1939, and when he died 10 days ago at the age of 74 Seamus Heaney left behind as indelible a mark as a writer could hope for. You don’t need me to tell you about Mr. Heaney’s contributions to verse in English (and some other languages); it’s almost enough to say that he was a poet, and he was famous, to recognize the size of his achievement. Anyway, the obituaries in the Guardian and the New York Times did a very admirable job of enlightening the man and the work and what they’ve meant to contemporary readers. I actually got a little emotional at the conclusion of the Times obit, reflecting for a second on the hours of hard work it takes to be a great communicator, and, for someone of Heaney’s tone, the generosity of spirit. “Big-hearted” was the word Paul Muldoon used at the funeral last week. Muldoon spoke of Mr. Heaney’s ability to connect readers not just to himself, but to each other.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying–
He had always taken funerals in his stride–
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were “sorry for my trouble,”
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.